Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on Monday the Narmada Seva Mission for the conservation of the crucial river, which is a lifeline of Madhya Pradesh.
Launching the Narmada Seva Mission in Amarkantak, Madhya Pradesh, Modi, appeared at his reverent best. His speech preceded the recital of Hindu chants at the Narmada temple. During his speech he extolled the place of the Narmada in Hindu shastras, referring to it as Ma.
“It is a perfect document of future vision, it should be sent to all other states,” he said of the Narmada Seva mission plan document prepared by the Madhya Pradesh government.
The yatra was launched on December 11 last year projecting it as the world’s “biggest river conservation campaign with public participation.”
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in the state envisaged the initiative as a people’s movement to protect the highly polluted river.
Over the years, most efforts to clean up Indian rivers have run into the sand. Politicians and environmentalists differ over how to do the job, green laws are lax and most cleaning projects are blighted by corruption and delays. With large stretches still contaminated by toxic waste and sewage, the $3 billion plan to clean the Ganga – India’s showcase river conservation project -- is set to miss its 2018 deadline.
Narmada river captured the attention of the nation when it became the centre of a decades-long struggle to stop the raising of the Sardar Sarovar Dam. Medha Patkar led the campaign that demonstrators said would displace thousands, who were not being compensated.
This is a Narmada Bachao Andolan of a different kind, the kind that enjoys the wholehearted blessings of the Madhya Pradesh state government, the Narendra Modi led-central government and the environment minister for state, Anil Madhav Dave.
River conservation has been in sharp focus since Modi’s government came to power. It set up a ministry to clean up the Ganga; it encouraged river festivals; and promoted a bunch of other rivers also considered holy by many Hindus, prompting critics to allege the ruling BJP was using these conservation campaigns to appeal to religious sentiments and consolidate its support base along faith lines.
The Central Pollution Control Board recently found that at least in three stretches of the Narmada, water quality is not even good for bathing.
A 2016 study that analysed water samples from four different points of the river in two seasons-- dry and wet in 2014-15-- found that the water was not conducive to sustain aquatic life or to be used for domestic purposes.
Last week at a seminar the minister of state for environment Anil Madhav Dave said that if Narmada river was not protected, its basin would turn into a cricket ground.
Dave had founded ‘Narmada Samagra’ which aimed at protecting the river, before he became the environment minister.
The Narmada originates from the Maikal hills and charts its way through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat finally draining into the Arabian Sea.
It provides drinking water to more than four crore people and irrigates about 17 lakh hectares of land. Madhya Pradesh generates over 2400 megawatts of power from hydropower plants on the river.
Over the course of the yatra that was flagged off from Amarkantak , Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and public figures, including the Dalai Lama, lent their support to the campaign.
“The main aim of this journey is to give a message to the people world over to keep rivers, including Narmada, pollution free,” Chouhan said.
He also declared the river a living entity, recognising the sacred status enjoyed by it for centuries.
Various public functions and events were organised along the way soliciting participation from thousands of people as core team of 50 traversed 1831 km on the southern bank of the river and 1513 km on the northern bank.
In the state’s budget estimate for 2016-17, Rs 2095.31 crore was allocated for the Narmada valley development.
More than 700 Narmada seva committees have already been formed in the state and over 74000 Narmada sevaks have registered under the initiative to clean and protect the river.
Monday’s concluding programme was live-streamed on Narendra Modi’s app.
“I was born in Gujarat, the people of Gujarat know the value of every drop of Narmada’s water,” Modi said. Dave is known to have made Narmada his life’s mission. He hails from Barnagar in Ujjain District of Madhya Pradesh.
Modi emphasised that the real task had just begun. “The journey has ended, but the real work has just started,” he said.
What is the Narmada Seva Yatra?
*Started: December 11, 2016 from Amarkantak, the origin place of the River Narmada
*Distance covered on the southern bank: 1831 km
*Villages and towns covered on the southern bank: 548
*Distance covered on the northern bank:1513 km
*Villages and towns covered on the southern bank: 556
*Ended: May 15, 2017 at Amarkantak (148 days)